It’s interesting that director Rory Abel’s horror drama “Phobia” works on various levels. As a movie about a man dealing with the trauma of a horrible accident that left him an agoraphobe, “Phobia” works. I found much of the material involving agoraphobia to be very compelling, and often very suffocating. Director Abel is able to convey a shockingly accurate depiction of agoraphobia, with actor Michael Jefferson giving a remarkable turn as a man confined to his two story brown stone. It’s when the movie transforms in to a more supernatural thriller is where it falters.
“Phobia” centers on a man named Jonathan whose horrific car crash that took the life of his beloved wife traumatized him forever. He’s now an extreme agoraphobe confined to his house who suffers panic attacks by merely opening his front door. Despite being given orders by his visiting psychiatrist that he engage in some desensitization therapy, Jonathan is a victim to his own mental illness. Things begin to change though when a very attractive new grocery delivery woman named Bree appears, and Jonathan decides to change his life. But he begins being tormented by terrifying visions, he begins to wonder if he’s really agoraphobic, or if wants to keep him inside. Pretty much all of “Phobia” is set within the confines of his Brownstone, as Jonathan views the house as a prison, despite its charms.
Director Abel transforms the house in to a character all its own with every room becoming a potential den for menace or some kind of revelation. Much of “Phobia” feels very similar to “Repulsion” where Jonathan is more a victim to his environment when he begins suffering horrific visions of ghosts and demons. Director Abel confronts the character’s mental stability, jumping back and forth toying with the audience, asking us to consider if Jonathan is going insane, or if he’s really being haunted. Most of the demonic imagery is successfully effective, with the ghost of Jonathan’s wife appearing as a corpse. There’s even a creepy confrontation in his attic with a ghost donning spider-like legs. Where “Phobia” falters though is the eventual realization that the ghosts aren’t really harming Jonathan per se.
If they were inflicting considerable physical harm, or at least the threat of such, there’d be a new level of terror present. But the hauntings and visions become repetitive, and once there’s that nagging notion the ghosts aren’t doing anything except giving Jonathan bad nightmares, the movie’s momentum is lost mid-way. That doesn’t detract from what is a strong horror drama, though. “Phobia” definitely sucked me in, and succeeded in portraying the more human elements of the narrative as horrific. The performances by the entire cast are impressive, especially by MacKinlay and Dubrey, as they help keep “Phobia” on a strong pace to a spooky finale. “Phobia” is an entertaining, cerebral horror drama, and one that deserves a watch for fans that love slow boil genre entries.